The rise and fall of Portland’s “Elk”: 1900 – 2020

By ROSIE RIDDLE

In 1900, the 3,000-pound bronze “Elk” statue was erected between the Plaza Blocks in downtown Portland.

On July 2nd, after standing for 120 years, the elk was removed.

The elk was erected atop a fountain, with the intent of providing a watering hole and gathering place by the former mayor David P. Thompson. Serving from 1879 – 1882, Thompson commissioned the fountain and statue for the city in 1900.

“Yesterday’s Tomorrow – A Portland Journey” by Uncage the Soul Productions

Located in what used to be a feeding ground for elk, it has served its intended purpose, being a focal point and gathering spot at several times during the last month as the Black Lives Matter movement has held demonstrations at the nearby Multnomah County Justice Center.

However, during the last week, Portlanders have gathered more and more around the statue. On July 1st a fire was set around the base of the fountain and was kept burning for hours, a welcome heat on that chilly night.

The elk was featured in a number of images and live streams over the course of the night.

The Elk of Chapman Square on its final night atop its fountain, surrounded by fire and smoke.

The elk of downtown between Portland’s Plaza Blocks on its final night atop its fountain, surrounded by fire and smoke.
Photo by Donovan Farley, @DonovanFarley

As a result of the fire, the Portland Police Bureau launched an investigation, calling the damage left by the fire vandalism.

The Regional Arts and Culture Council, at the request of the City, also launched an investigation. After inspecting the fountain and the base upon which the statue sits, they decided that the damage to the stone fountain was severe enough that the statue could potentially topple and harm Portlanders in the process. 

So on July 2nd, after one hundred twenty years, the proud bronze elk statue was removed.

The City has stated that the elk is now in storage, with no plans so far for what will come next for the shiny four-legged icon.

Not to be deterred from their gathering, Portlanders have replaced the bronze elk statue with what is being called the tiny elk, pictured below, on the 4th of July. But protesters have refrained from lighting any more large fires at the base of the fountain.

A tiny elk placed atop a bundle of sticks taped together. There is a small fire nearby as a flag burns on what was the statues base. Photo by: @45thabsurdist

A tiny elk placed atop a bundle of sticks taped together. There is a small fire nearby as a flag burns on what was the statues base.
Photo by @45thabsurdist

The tiny elk has been present at the demonstrations every night since it was first placed, as a tribute to our fallen friend.

***

Rosie is a houseless trans activist and writer with a focus on tech and queer advocacy. Originally from California, it’s been a Portland resident for over a decade.

9 thoughts on “The rise and fall of Portland’s “Elk”: 1900 – 2020

  1. Lyle says:

    It’s a damn shame. Shame on the people that choice to destroy property.Worry about the issues.stop this destructive behavior.

    1. It’s much more than a shame, it’s raw criminality; what you’d expect from those who martyr a thug like George Floyd. The notion that their cop-scapegoating cause is legitimate was wrong from the beginning. Blacks get killed during arrest (out of proportion to their population) due to their high crime rate, since the odds increase of botched arrests. About twice as many whites die by cop each year, mostly while resisting arrest as well. Cherry-picking specific cases doesn’t prove systemic racism. People get mesmerized by random videos the media hypes, but forget the majority of event-free arrests. It’s a failure of critical thinking.

      As someone who lives many miles from Portland, I had the misfortune to drive through the affected area when things were still in a semi-riot phase. It was clear that criminals were using Floyd as an excuse for longstanding grievances against cops who interrupt their sleazy livelihoods. This elk had nothing to do with the police and they see racism in other statues without the arc of history for context. They destroy stuff yet act offended that others aren’t entirely pure. In fact, some of the rioters might have been slave owners back in the day, given their belligerent demeanor. Slaves were considered property, and see how they treat it today.

      The businesses of their “peaceful” brethren should be boycotted. Just look for Black Lives Matter signs and smug attitudes that prevail among criminal-apologists. Anyone who stands and chants amid urban ruins can’t claim to be detached from criminal rioters. Until this happened, I respected some progressive causes but they’ve lost many followers.

  2. Gordon Karpen says:

    Here’s a thought: RIOTERS are not welcome to impose on the 599700 of us living in Portland who already have chosen to not join you. Go home is your best option.

    1. James says:

      Editors note: this comment was removed due to a call for violence.

      We respect and encourage differences in opinion, but calls to violence are not acceptable.

      -ATW

  3. D says:

    I would like to know what the elk statue ever did that was raciest!

    If you MORONS don’t get out if my city, I will start protesting, finding out where you live, and what your property is and make sure it is posted on Facebook. Then call for all human beings from Portland Oregon to destroy your property and run your sorry asses out of my town!!!!!!!

  4. Donna H. says:

    This is really sad. I am on the side of social justice, but this was just wanton destruction for no reason. The statue is beautiful and impressive, and a proud symbol of the city. I hope a new home will be found for it soon.

  5. This crass act was done in the name of a drugged-out porn actor who held a gun to a pregnant woman’s stomach and served 5 years for it. He was only a role model for other degenerates. While resisting arrest for a fake money stunt (refused to get into vehicles 3 times) he was held down by several cops and it’s very unlikely he was killed on purpose. The neck hold went bad in this case but had proved necessary before. A guy of Floyd’s size wasn’t expected to be harmed, and it’s unclear if just the neck pressure triggered his death. Wait for the trial.

    The hysterics over that cherry-picked botched arrest are totally out of proportion to its true significance. Cops fight CRIME and blacks commit far more of it relative to their numbers than other races, so the odds of deadly arrests rise mathematically. It’s not proof of a racist conspiracy when some of those arrests go sour (resisting is always risky). Floyd’s criminal-loving groupies have set back their pseudo-cause and done nothing but raise Portland’s crime rate and general level of rudeness. They’ve also further associated blacks with crime, and good blacks probably resent it.

    Those who think whites are the only people capable of racism should learn some history. Start with the Arab slave trade, which lasted over 1,000 years and enslaved well over 10 million Africans; nearly double by some reports. Floyd protesters have a very narrow grasp of context and many are just blind cop-haters. They can’t understand that their very ability to protest (in a society not toppled by anarchy) is made possible by laws that are enforced, not flouted.

  6. Doug says:

    I want the statue put back where it belongs. Hopefully, when all of this stupid behavior is ended, the Mayor (or whomever is responsible for it) will have the elk and its base repaired and put back exactly where it stood for well over one hundred years.

  7. Whatever cause may have been originally justified for these protests, was completely nullified by their stupid acts of vandalism and destruction.
    Also…these rioters and vandals are doing Trump a huge favor, whether they realize it or not.

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